Pakistan has been placed at 75th position amongst the 105 countries ranked by the new Global Food Security Index 2012.
The index evaluates a country’s ability to feed its people on the basis of the key determinants of food security — affordability, availability and quality.
Out of the 26 lower middle income ($1,006-3,975 per capita) countries ranked by the index prepared by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Pakistan gets 19th place as it scores 38.5 points out of a total of 100.
Sri Lanka and India, the other two of the four South Asian countries, have performed better than Pakistan by securing 62nd and 66th positions on the index. Bangladesh, however, lags behind at 81st place.
Pakistan’s low ranking on GFSI in spite of increase in agriculture output — especially of wheat and rice — in the recent years is a stark reminder of the lack of government efforts to combat growing hunger in the country. Even the Zero Hunger Pakistan programme launched in collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP) by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in March seems to have been abandoned since his disqualification from the office.
No allocation was made for the programme, which aimed to cover 61 million food insecure people across the country in five years, in the budget for the current financial year, Mr Gilani’s pledge for it notwithstanding.
The National Nutrition Survey Report 2011, prepared by Agha Khan University in collaboration with the ministry of health with the support of UNICEF, says “food insecurity has become one of the major national problems in Pakistan.”
The survey says the number of hungry, under nourished and malnourished people rose from 51 per cent of the country’s total population in 2008 to 58 per cent in 2011.
The National Nutrition Survey says almost 60 per cent households in Punjab suffered food insecurity. Sindh was found to be the poorest and most food deprived province as 72 per cent households were found to be food insecure followed by Balochistan with 63.5 per cent of the population.
While Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa appeared relatively better off with only 28.2 per cent food insecure households, more than 58 per cent population in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) suffered food insecurity. In Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan about 57per cent and 40 per cent were food insecure.
A report by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in 2010 said the state of food security in Pakistan had deteriorated since 2003 and found that almost half of the country’s population was food insecure.
It pointed out inadequate food security in 61 per cent districts in the country, up from 45 per cent in 2003. The report showed that provincial disparities existed in terms of food security.
Rising food prices, floods, poverty, armed conflicts, terrorism, energy crisis, economic slowdown and political instability are some of the major factors blamed for rising number of hungry people in the country by both food security experts and international agencies.
Shortage of food is not the main cause of food insecurity and hunger in Pakistan, many experts say. Affordability and unequal geographical distribution of the food produced in the country have curtailed the access of most people, they emphasise. The movement of food from one place to another also raises its price and curtails the access of the people to food.
“Food insecurity is multidimensional, affecting at the national, provincial, district and household levels. It has various categories, such as chronic, acute and transit. The causes behind this alarming phenomenon vary for each case,” says Abid Suleri, executive director of SDPI.
“There are three prerequisites that determine whether food insecurity exists: availability of food through production, import, aid, inter-district transfer, etc; access to food; and food assimilation, that is, when food is absorbed and digested by the body.”
He says food security doesn’t mean availability of wheat. “Hence, a bumper crop of wheat is wrongly considered as a sign of food security.
Even a bumper wheat crop in the few districts of Pakistan does not guarantee that the rest of the country would have physical availability of, or any access to, the crop. It means the government should think about the other aspects of food security besides increasing the wheat production.”
Suleri, who is conducting the Food Security and Nutrition Assessment Study 2012, is of the view that “we got to have a national food security strategy — a strategy that should address all the three aspects of food security: availability, affordability and quality.”
Do our rulers have what it takes to evolve and implement such a comprehensive strategy? So far they’ve shown little or no interest in tackling growing food insecurity and hunger in the country.
This article was originally published at: Dawn
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.